Plebs (2013-2014) is Sam Leifer’s sitcom about three young men in ancient Rome. It stars Tom Rosenthal, Joel Fry, and Ryan Sampson. It’s available on Hulu, DVD region 2/PAL, and Blu-Ray (non-US).
In ancient Rome, the commoners were called the Plebeians. They were the working class, compared to the elite patricians. Although the time of Rome that we call “ancient Rome” was around the 4th century B.C., we can imagine that the life of the lower class wasn’t actually that different from the life of today’s lower class. At least, that’s what Sam Leifer explores in his sitcom Plebs. With a degree in this era, Leifer seamlessly blends modern culture with ancient customs. Although there are many historically accurate references, Leifer is quick to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of the joke. The Romans have their own slang, which they probably did have, but it likely didn’t sound like a Latinized version of today’s.
What’s most enjoyable about watching this show is recognizing the overused sitcom plot lines that have been re-adapted for Roman use. The show is extremely self aware (and even self mocking) of its genre. Every sitcom has that episode where one character challenges the other, “Oh, you think my life’s so easy? Well, you try being me for a day.” They swap places for a day to discover what it’s like in the other person’s shoes, thus gaining more respect for their friend. Adapting that to the master/slave hierarchy feels so natural, you almost wonder if everything else stemmed from this scenario. Likewise, someone always recognizes someone else from a porno. Hell, even Stewart Lee’s novel does it. Of course, pre-video, the lads have to recognize their neighbor as a naked model on a painted urn. And then there’s always an episode where one character questions their outdated-ness. Usually it’s to do with a character’s old fashion view of love and marriage that is preventing them from getting laid or something to do with clothing choices, but in ancient Rome, it’s a question of whether sleeping with your cousin is too outdated.
Plebs features a killer cast: Marcus (Rosenthal), a slightly awkward, wet behind the ears romantic; his best friend and flatmate Stylax (Fry), who is a little more adventurous than Marcus; Marcus’s slave Grumio (Sampson), who is bored with everything; the girl next door Cynthia (Sophie Colquhoun) who is dumb as a brick; Cynthia’s slave Metella (Lydia Rose Bewely) who seems to be running the show; their landlord (Twenty Twelve‘s Karl Theobald); their boss Flavia (Doon Mackichan) who has taken a certain liking to Stylax; and waterboy Aurelius (Tom Basden), their pesky workmate.
Ultimately, this sitcom is the sort of show that you watch if (a) you’re interested in the clever writing and adaptation to the time period, or (b) you like those sitcoms about lads trying to survive in the real world, get laid, and live with their flatmates without killing each other. Like The Inbetweeners with gladiators.